The Commons is Closing, Giving Its Space to California Brewery

Rumors had been swirling the brewery was troubled since head brewer Sean Burke and another brewer departed without warning in June.

(Commons, Christine Dong)

Portland's beloved Commons Brewery is closing.

Their space has been leased by California brewer Modern Times, beer blog Brewbound reports.

"We're incredibly excited to be coming to Portland, and we're so looking forward to becoming a pillar of the local brewing community in a city we love so dearly," wrote Modern Times CEO Jacob McKean in an announcement.

The news is dire for fans of the Commons, whose Urban Farmhouse was our beer of the year in 2013, back when they operated out of a tiny warehouse space in the central eastside.

The brewery had some hiccups since moving into its vast and expensive new space. Our reviewer took issue with the lack of chairs and the heating and cooling system has long been a topic of complaint.

More recently, however, Commons had seemed to enter into a second renaissance with a wave of German beers and innovative ales.

Rumors began to swirl that the Commons was in trouble after brewer Sean Burke departed without warning in June. Another brewer then quit behind him. The whispers were especially loud that Commons was being acquired by another craft brewer.

In August, we ran into Commons brand manager Josh Grgas while he was having lunch at a restaurant and asked about those rumors. He denied them, declaring that the brewery previously had been overstaffed.

When asked whether the Commons was selling, Grgas said, "I can't comment on that, because it's not happening."

He said he was the last to hear of rumors the Commons was being acquired, and that the Commons would continue as it had been, but with fewer brewers.

It turns out that Commons is not being acquired. Instead, it's ceasing production entirely at the end of the year.

"Unfortunately, this is a classic small business cash flow story," Commons' owner Mike Wright wrote in a statement. (He did not immediately respond to WW requests for comment.) "Sure, there is plenty of industry nuance and hindsight that can be evaluated, but this boiled down to simple debits and credits. That's the sinister simplicity of a cash flow problem. Your debt is clearly defined, but revenue is a rollercoaster. The belief was that we'd eventually break out and get past those challenges. We did not."

Wright also wrote that he planned to reboot the Commons in some form in the future.

"I am motivated to find a pathway forward for The Commons," he wrote, "but that's not yet clear and I don't want to make any claims that I cannot follow through on."

But for now, Wright will maintain ownership of the building, but California's Modern Times will be leasing the space, and those fancy new brew tanks in that fancy new space will turn out Modern Times beer instead—which has already made a huge push to enter the Portland beer market on taps around town. Modern Times will rechristen the Commons space as the "Belmont Fermentorium."

New School reports that Modern Times' cellar manager Mat Sandoval will become lead brewer in Portland, and that the tasting room will be moved into an the adjacent space at 600 SE Belmont that Modern Times also procured.

The changeover will happen by the end of 2017. In the meantime, the Commons is still brewing: You've got three months of myrtle, and three months of farmhouse, and three months of that fresh, delicious pilsner. And then, maybe you won't.

This is the first big beer closure of the current era. And this one's going to hurt.

Here's the full statement from Modern Times:

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